AYER -- The oft-scrapped plan to revitalize Vicksburg Square in Devens has been resurrected.
As per MassDevelopment requirements, the three towns that surround and comprise Devens must be notified. These towns must approve by town vote any plans to re-zone, redevelop or amend bylaws within the community.
MassDev is the oversight authority of Devens since the old fort's decommissioning in 1991.
The community is an independent entity but its borders include parts of Ayer, Shirley and Harvard so the towns must be unified in affecting changes to regulations.
The Vicksburg Square proposal, explained to Ayer residents at a small gathering in Nov. 28, was presented by Edmund Starzec, Director of Land Entitlements & Master Planning for MassDev. The meeting served as a launch-pad for an upcoming tour of information disbursement that wil make stops in all of the communities.
The project calls for the repurposing of seven buildings on the 20-acre tract, which straddles the Ayer/Harvard border, from abandoned real estate to residential dwellings. "The buildings are structurally sound," said Starzec. But the long-term vacancy of the 435,000 square foot collective interiors has led to damage from vandalism and nature.
The proposed 282 unit redevelopment project would make Vicksburg Square the only multi-unit residential community at Devens, augmenting the 120 single-family homes that are currently under construction.
Starzec explained that MassDev has tried over the years to entice local businesses and community colleges to purchase the property for expansion of their operations. The one-time military barracks would be ideal dormitories and classroom space. They had no takers. Then they lured some tech start-ups into the compound in the early 2000s, hoping that these companies would become successful enough to purchase larger spaces at Devens. None did. With the "incubator for innovation" experiment dissolving in 2015, the property was again boarded up, accessible only to trespassers and weather.
According to Starzec, there would be a significant amount of work needed to refurbish and modernize the buildings and upgrade the central quadrangle. There has been no marketing of the property to developers yet since town approvals are needed to even entertain bids or buyers. The first step is to disseminate the information to the residents of the towns. MassDev's short-term goal is to get the article on each town's spring warrant, which will hopefully lead to a vote.
Starzec points out that in the past, the towns have collaborated to change existing zoning bylaws for the purpose of (re) development.
He added that with nearly 300 new families moving to the community, local commerce should enhance economic development.